Mediterranean Diet Found to Lower Risk for Breast Cancer

Mediterranean Foods on the Table.
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The Mediterranean diet has been found to have many benefits for cardiovascular health. Since obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it is important to make dietary choices that not only help with weight management but also improve cardiovascular health. And now there is another reason to choose the Mediterranean diet: researchers have found that it may lower the risk for breast cancer (for which obesity is also a risk factor).

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

Rather than being a fad diet that one chooses solely for the short-term purposes of weight loss, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle choice, a way of eating for the rest of one’s life. This is the natural style of eating for most of the inhabitants of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea—hence the name.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tree nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, fish and poultry, and wine (particularly red wine) in moderation.

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

In the 1990s, the results of a landmark trial known as the Lyon Diet Heart Study were released. This study looked at 605 patients who had already had a heart attack and followed them for an average of nearly 4 years. The study investigators found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet enriched in alpha-linolenic acid (a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids) had a much lower risk of having another heart attack or dying from heart disease.

Interestingly, in the Lyon Diet Heart Study, not only did the Mediterranean diet lower the risk of recurrent heart disease; it also lowered the overall cancer risk by a whopping 61%.

More recently, in 2013, results from the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) trial were first released. Also a randomized trial, this study looked at patients who had no known cardiovascular disease but were at high risk.

The study investigators followed these patients for nearly five years and found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented either with extra-virgin olive oil or with mixed nuts were less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or death from a cardiac cause than were those study participants who were simply advised to reduce the fat in their daily diets.

Now, further analysis of the PREDIMED trial is showing that following the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil reduced the risk of breast cancer.

The Mediterranean Diet and Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Scientists who analyzed data from the PREDIMED trial found that those patients who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin oil had a 68% reduced risk for developing breast cancer.

The study authors stated: “Our results suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer.”

Going Mediterranean

Several resources are available to those who wish to explore and adopt a Mediterranean style of eating. In addition to various cookbooks that are now available, readers can find resources around the network, including but not limited to the following, for starters:


de Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, et al. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation 1999;99:779-785.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med 2013;368:1279-1290.

Toledo E, Salas-Salvado J, Donat-Vargas C, et al. Mediterranean diet and invasive breast cáncer risk among women at high cardiovascular risk in the PREDIMED trial: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Sep 14:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]

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